SPOILER WARNING: If you fancy watching Chuck fresh, it might be worth giving this article a miss for now, as it is full of spoilers. Feel free to come back once you have watched it though!
I’m crap at watching TV. Not the act of sitting down, snacks in hand, and enjoying a good programme, that bit’s easy. I do find it tricky to sit myself in the chair the same time each week to keep up with a series, though.
The DVD box-set is therefore a big friend of mine. I have discovered many of my favourite shows – The Wire, 24, Mad Men, Misfits – a while after they originally aired. Holding its head high among those is Chuck. I have to confess to my ignorance and admit I knew very little about the show when I saw the first two seasons on the shelf of HMV for £15. I took a punt on it, and I am very glad I did.
I stumbled across a funny, action-packed show about an archetypal under-achiever, whose world is turned upside down when the Government’s top supercomputer is downloaded into his brain.
The premise of Chuck sounds one-note, but the show has strong characters and a great blend of drama and comedy. It fought against cancellation throughout its run, and the fact it lasted five series is a great credit to the writers, actors, and team behind it.
Chuck ebbed and flowed in quality, but even at its low points – which were still good, I would argue – it was full of fantastic moments. Throughout its run from start to finish, episodes and plotlines were punctuated with satisfying resolutions for characters, delightful comedic highlights, and exciting action set pieces. You name it, Chuck probably has it.
Here then, in chronological order, are its ten best moments…
Chuck meets Sarah (Series 1, Episode 1, ‘Pilot’)
Every great love story has to begin somewhere. For Romeo and Juliet, it was the Capulet Ball. For Anthony and Cleopatra, it was Egypt. For Chuck Batowski and Sarah Walker, it was the Burbank Buy More.
It’s the day after Chuck’s birthday. It seems pretty much like any other day, except for Chuck has unknowingly just downloaded the US Government’s top supercomputer, the Intersect, into his brain. Enter Sarah Walker, blonde bombshell and sexy super spy for the CIA. She enters the Buy More posing as a customer with a faulty phone, getting Chuck to fix it. When faced with a pretty girl, he’s hardly suave. He drops his own phone, he references Batman and points out the finer aspects of being a nerd rather than a geek. He does show his sweet side however, when he helps a confused father film his young daughter performing ballet. Sarah is intrigued by his soft, caring side, going above and beyond his lowly Nerd Herd duties to comfort the young girl.
Zachary Levi shows off both his comedic skills and Chuck’s sensitive side really well in this scene, encompassing all that Sarah eventually comes to love about him. His chemistry with Joshua Gomez as Morgan is already in place, as is his attraction to Sarah. Can you blame him? Plus, beatboxing about Vicki Vale has got to be a winner.
Jeffster! is born (Series 2, Episode 13, ‘Chuck versus the Best Friend’)
Chuck was a great show for balancing action, humour and touching character-driven storylines. It once again confidently trod that fine line with the birth of ‘Jeffster!’.
Having found out that Chuck’s sister Ellie and Captain Awesome, aka Devon, are looking for a wedding band, Chuck’s Buy More colleagues Jeff and Lester put themselves forward. They ultimately secure an audition from a reluctant Captain Awesome. Their song of choice? Toto’s Africa, and they rock it hard. They completely suck, but they rock hard. Jeffster had many (perhaps too many) moments throughout the show’s remaining seasons, but this is their highlight for me.
This is a great moment for so many of the characters, not just Jeff and Lester. Chuck gets to quietly let Sarah know how much he cares for her, Morgan proudly declares how much he likes Anna, and Captain Awesome shows how awesome he is by allowing Jeffster to have their moment in the sun.
Toto kick a lot of ass, too.
Chuck and Sarah get it on (Series 2, Episode 21, ‘Chuck versus the Colonel’)
The title of this entry makes it sound more pervy than it is meant to. In reality, it’s one of Chuck‘s sweetest and most tender moments. Sarah and Chuck are on the lam from the government, having gone on the run to track down Stephen Bartowski, Chuck’s dad. The sexual chemistry between the two continues to bubble under as they share a hotel room together. At this point, that tension has been building for two seasons.
This wonderful scene brings all that to a crescendo. As they slowly awaken from their slumber in each other’s arms, their fingers intertwine. They share a momentary glance before, finally, they kiss. They’ve kissed before, but this time it is for real. Not only satisfying in terms of payoff, the music, performance and direction add to the romance of the scene. This moment is laced with comedy too, as Chuck discovers he has no condoms, thanks to Morgan.
‘I’m gonna kill you, Morgan.’ Can’t say I blame you, Chuck.
‘Guys… I know Kung-Fu.’ (Series 2, Episode 22, ‘Chuck versus The Ring’)
Romance is in the air at Ellie and Captain Awesome’s wedding. With Sarah apparently about to confess her feelings for our leading man Chuck, the proverbial plop hits the fan. Chuck’s college roommate and Sarah’s old flame, super spy Bryce Larkin, is kidnapped by The Ring, a corrupt spy organisation hell-bent on obtaining its own Intersect.
Our three heroes rush from the wedding to save Bryce from the nefarious Ring operatives. Chuck ends up locked in the Intersect room with a dying Bryce, who begs Chuck to destroy the Intersect 2.0 before The Ring can get their hands on it. Naturally, Chuck ignores him, and reluctantly uploads the Intersect 2.0 into his own mind before destroying the hardware. The Ring agents finally break in, and are about to kill Sarah, Casey and Chuck.
The new Intersect is full of surprises though, and Chuck defends his friends with a whirlwind display of kung-fu, disarming the five Ring henchmen before unloading a can of whoop-ass on each of them. Chuck has truly arrived as a kick-ass spy. The ensuing fight scene is brilliantly choreographed, made all the better for using Levi as much as possible. The close-quarters fist fighting is intense. The show may have not had the biggest budget going, but fight scenes like this are Chuck at its action-filled best.
Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and Casey (Adam Baldwin) play their part wonderfully, providing the comic relief through their exasperation at Chuck’s antics. Casey grunts a lot during the show, but his ‘Uh?’ at the end of this fight scene is absolutely priceless.
Sprinkle a Matrix reference on the top, and you have Chuck gold dust.
Morgan finally finds out (Series 3, Episode 9, ‘Chuck versus The Beard’)
Throughout the earlier seasons, Chuck fought an ongoing battle to hide his spy life from his friends and family. Among those he found it hardest to keep his secret from was Morgan. Chuck’s nerd of a best friend his whole life, more than anyone else, Morgan anchors Chuck to the real world. They share pretty much everything.
The tension caused by Chuck’s secrecy has become so bad that Morgan ‘fires’ Chuck as his best friend. So when they face an impending death, Chuck finally reveals his secret. Does Morgan react with anger at the news? “My best friend is a spy…? This is unbelievable, this is the best news I’ve ever heard!”.
Chuck finally gets the monkey off his back, and one of his nearest and dearest is finally in on his secret. Morgan’s reaction is completely in character, and he is full of questions. Chuck is momentarily stunned into silence with relief before spilling the beans. Awesome.
Chuck shoots Shaw (Series 3, Episode 13, ‘Chuck versus the Other Guy’)
Chuck made a thing of using guest stars from TV and film franchises, to varying effect. I’ll get on to two of my other favourite stars later, but Brandon Routh from Superman Returns has to count as one of the most effectively used of those guest stars. Routh plays Daniel Shaw, an exemplary agent working with Team Bartowski to bring down The Ring. His motivation for bringing out The Ring is driven by his need to avenge his wife Evelyn, apparently murdered by a Ring operative.
Upon discovering that Sarah shot Evelyn as part of her ‘red test’, a spy’s first kill, Shaw breaks. He aligns himself with The Ring, abducts and drugs Sarah, and takes her to the place where she shot Evelyn. Consumed by his grief, Shaw informs a paralysed Sarah of his intention to kill her. Chuck catches them up and pleads for Sarah’s life. The use of flashbacks here is brilliant, as is the accompanying music. The soft piano and ghostly vocals of Kettering by The Antlers offers the moment a haunting quality.
A spy who detests guns, Chuck finally pulls the trigger on Shaw when left with no other choice. The implications for Chuck, who knows that Sarah loves him for his pacifism, are thrown to one side as he saves her life and his own by shooting Shaw. Shaw’s admission that he won’t reveal Chuck’s secrets to the Ring shows he still has a moral code. It makes the moment all the more tragic. Daniel Shaw, a noble agent fallen from grace, driven by his crippling grief.
I do kind of wish he had stayed dead after this, though.
Shaw shoots Stephen Bartowski (Series 3, Episode 18, ‘Chuck versus the Subway’)
Alongside Brandon Routh, Scott Bakula of Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise fame ranks up there as one of the show’s best guest stars. Not my favourite (I’m getting to it!) but up there.
The road for Bakula’s Stephen Bartowski and his children Chuck and Ellie was never smooth, having a complicated relationship with the pair of them. Just as things start to settle down though, a vengeful Shaw returns to shoot Stephen, and cripple Chuck’s ability to use the Intersect.
Wonderfully acted by Levi, Bakula, and Sarah Lancaster, it is a tragic scene that proves the show had the capability to carry off heavy drama alongside the secret agent hi-jinx and laughter. Much as Evelyn Shaw’s death becomes a driving motivation for Shaw, Chuck finds himself driven to keep saving the world in his father’s memory.
Casey’s Couch Lock (Series 4, Episode 5, ‘Chuck versus the Couch Lock’)
Writing about this moment, I had not realised quite how little I have mentioned Casey in this article. Appalling really, considering his contribution to the show. Somewhere along the line, the writers saw fit to pair up nerdy loser Morgan with everyone’s favourite gruff NSA badass. The result? Many of Chuck‘s funniest moments, including this one.
Casey is under the influence of paralysis-inducing drugs as part of a mission. Upon medical advice from Captain Awesome, Morgan has to anger or surprise Casey to get him out of his paralysed state. Reluctantly, Morgan reveals to the world’s scariest over-protective father that he is dating Casey’s daughter, Alex.
Joshua Gomez hits a home-run with his fearful delivery as he reveals all, goading Casey into coming out of his ‘couch-lock’. Adam Baldwin is predictably awesome, slowly arousing back to life before exploding out of his ‘couch lock’ into a choke-hold on helpless Morgan.
The escalation of the scene, the use of close-ups, the satanic music as Casey shows signs of life, and Adam Baldwin’s trademark grunts only add to the hilarity.
Chuck thwarts Volkoff (Series 4, episode 13, ‘Chuck versus the Push Mix’)
Some people may argue Brandon Routh or Scott Bakula was Chuck‘s best guest star. For me though, there is only one choice: Timothy Dalton.
Throughout the fourth series he starred as Alexei Volkoff, international arms dealer and the head of criminal organisation, Volkoff Industries. Later on in the series we find out that Volkoff is in fact Harvey Winterbottom, a mild-mannered colleague of Stephen Bartowski whose mind was corrupted by a flawed Intersect upload.
Though as Volkoff, Dalton plays a stone cold psychopath, infatuated with Chuck’s mother Mary. As Chuck and Sarah close in on Volkoff’s information network, Hydra, Volkoff tracks down Stephen Bartowski’s cabin, thinking him to still be alive and finds Chuck waiting for him. After a scintillating verbal sparring match, Chuck tricks Volkoff into speaking the words that give access to Hydra.
The scene is a wonderful culmination of a long-running arc, performed by two supremely talented actors. Stephen Bartowski’s posthumous involvement in the takedown of Volkoff is the bittersweet icing on a very sweet cake. The gradual reveal of Chuck’s plan throughout the scene is wonderfully realised, and a testament to the show’s great writing.
The proposal (Series 4, episode 13, ‘Chuck versus the Push Mix’)
Two moments from the same episode, I hear you cry? Well when series co-creator Josh Schwartz boasted that this episode ends with the “best ten minutes in the show’s history”, he was right.
Throughout the fourth series, Chuck has been trying to find the perfect way to propose to Sarah. He finds it in one of the most unexpected places. Volkoff is thwarted. Ellie is having her baby, and Chuck rushes to the hospital via helicopter to be there for his sister. As baby Clara Woodcomb joins the world, Sarah and Chuck sit patiently in the waiting room. Gazing into her eyes, he rises to his feet, presents the ring box to Sarah and drops to one knee.
Set to the background hum of a floor waxer, they embrace and kiss. We hear no words being said, and the episode fades to black. Chuck often did a great job of mixing the bombastic set pieces and the smaller, quiet moments, giving those quiet moments a greater impact.
After the excitement of taking down Volkoff, this is a perfect way for the episode to finish. Chuck remained pretty good until the end of the fifth series, but it never reached these heights again.
Honourable mentions: Series 1, ‘Pilot’, Chuck uses a porn virus to defuse a bomb; Series 3, ‘Chuck versus the American Hero’, Shaw learns the truth about his wife’s death; Series 4, ‘Chuck versus the First Fight’, Tuttle’s true identity is revealed; Series 5, ‘Chuck versus the Goodbye’, Chuck and Sarah sit together on the beach.
If that isn’t enough Chuck-related goodness for you, take a look at the ten reasons we loved Chuck, here.
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